When Brianna Cheng ’27 entered Barton Hall for Cornell’s Spring 2024 ClubFest, she could feel the bustling energy of countless campus clubs gathered in a single room, all extending students a warm invitation to join their community this semester.
“It’s definitely overwhelming because there are so many people, and it’s kind of scary to go up to somebody,” Cheng said. “But a lot of people are very welcoming and lure you [into signing up for their club] in a good way.”
On Sunday, ClubFest featured many of the University’s more than 1200 organizations and maintained its post-COVID-19 two-session structure. During the first session, students had the opportunity to explore a variety of clubs specializing in career development, sustainability and publication. The second session focused on clubs dedicated to community service, games, sports and the arts.
“It was really cool to come here and see everybody in person,” said Rayanu Adam ’27, a member of the Cornell University Autonomous Underwater Vehicle project team. “As someone who’s a minority, [when] I was looking at the websites, it seemed like there wasn’t much diversity. But coming [to ClubFest] in person and seeing, speaking and getting to know the people — I think I found the place for me.”
Cornell Capital Club is one of the many business and entrepreneurship organizations on campus. Established this past fall, the club aims to stand apart from others with its diverse and unique educational approach, encouraging students with little to no entrepreneurial experience to join. CCC features an extensive in-house training program for new members and opportunities such as a networking trip to New York City.
“Working with people of different backgrounds and having a goal in mind really helps [students] break down those barriers in terms of majors and [other differences] to work together and find something unique and what they’re passionate about,” said Lawrence Han ’27, vice president of new member education.
Other organizations spoke about diversity and inclusion at their ClubFest tables, such as Women Leaders of Color. Founded in 2021, WLC aims to promote female empowerment in the professional scene and provide ample resources to women of color who aspire to assume leadership positions in their communities and careers. WLC brought Christina Li, a managing director at Goldman Sachs, and Karen Chen ’25, a 2022 Olympic Figure Skater, to speak last semester.
“We have a lot of networking and mentorship programs that helped me grow as a woman of color and in the business industry,” said Nia Denis ’26, co-vice president of marketing at WLC. “We’ve grown so much as a club just [by] being in a professional environment with women that are like-minded and have a lot in common.”
In addition to hosting pre-professional clubs, Club-Fest also allowed students to explore recreational clubs, such as the Cornell Astronomical Society, which opens the Fuertes Observatory every Friday at 8 p.m. for viewing. This semester, the club is encouraging students to view April’s total solar eclipse, which will be most visible about 30 miles north of Ithaca, including in Syracuse and Rochester.
“We’re trying to encourage everyone who can get up about two hours north of here to try to see totality,” said Gillis Lowry ’24, CAS’s president. “It’s a totally different experience when you get to take your [solar eclipse] glasses and look directly at the sun.”
Lowry believes that the return of in-person ClubFest has been beneficial in re-establishing the group on campus since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve at least doubled our active members because, during COVID, the only way to find us was to see [our] advertisements in RPCC or on our website,” Lowry said. “But now we have a really big presence and word of mouth as well.”
Like Lowry, Ro Yu ’26, president of Ring of Steel: Ithaca, believes that ClubFest helps her promote her club. The organization teaches members choreographed sword fighting, specializes in theatrical combat and holds performances at Risley Dining Hall during dinner.
“I feel like [the] fall [semester] is more prominent because that’s when all the new people are coming in, [and] they’re looking for stuff to do,” Yu said. But I think spring might have a little bit more merit because, by spring, everybody has either fallen into a spot or they are looking for one.”
Unique performances featured at ClubFest included not only Ring of Steel: Ithaca but also Cornell Ballroom and Drag Club, which performed a dance number to a mashup of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Doja Cat. These performances simultaneously highlighted students involved in these clubs and worked to recruit members to join their performance organizations.
“It’s my first time ever at ClubFest, and I wanted to do something that was very current that a lot of people in my generation would recognize,” said Jacob Duffles ’24, president of CBD.
“Drag is for people who are learning about themselves and learning about each other, [and] I encourage everyone to participate — I hope that’s what they do.”
Collectively, ClubFest was an opportunity for students to discover new clubs and enjoy live performances, all while exploring the breadth of Cornell resources.
“I’m learning a lot of things that I didn’t even see [at] the first ClubFest, so having a second one is really nice to be able to experience more of what Cornell has to offer,” Cheng said.
Isabella Hanson ’27 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].